Celebration Series – Nelly Martinez

Our Celebration Series is an opportunity to celebrate who we are as an organization.  As we celebrate 15 years of operation and begin to establish a foundation in Memphis, we want to highlight someone who embodies our commitment to family-orientation.
 
Nelly Martinez currently serves as Manager of Health and Wellness at YES Prep.  Two of her siblings have graduated from YES Prep Southeast and two of her children have also graduated from the Southeast campus.  This spring, her youngest son will graduate from Southeast. 
 
Martinez began as a one-person department.  Her sister and brother were students in the fifth-grade class of YES Prep founder Chris Barbic when he was a teacher and she joined the staff at YES Prep when it opened in 1998.  Since then, Martinez has developed her department and now manages a team of four.
 
Martinez’s role encompasses campus-based health services, emergency-response, and pregnancy-related and other homebound services.  In addition to day-to-day responsibilities, Martinez also works diligently with the community in order to secure and provide free or low-cost goods and services for YES Prep students and families.  This includes immunizations, sports physicals, eye and dental screenings, and much more.
 
Martinez is committed to student health since a student’s health has a direct impact on his or her school attendance.
 
“Health is important as much as academics because if a child has a certain medical condition, he is not going to be able to function in the classroom,” Martinez said.  “It is really important that this department is as important as academics.  If [students] aren’t feeling well, they’re not going to make the grade.”
 
In addition to her commitment to ensuring YES Prep students and families stay healthy, Martinez is fully invested in YES Prep and our mission.
 
“I really believe in what we do with the kids,” she said.  “It was really good to work here first and then say, ‘I want my kids exposed to this.’”
 
In order for her own children, who were zoned to Dayton ISD, to attend YES Prep Southeast, Martinez and her children had to drive an hour to and from school each day. Beyond the physical drive, the journey towards college graduation has had many difficulties.
 
“All my kids have cried of frustration for homework, or because it’s one o’clock in the morning and they’re doing homework, or they have to stay late because there is a meeting,” Martinez said.
 
Yet she encourages parents to stick it out.  “The first year and a half or two is really hard,” she said.  “If you just stick it out, it will get better.  They’ll eventually get the rhythm of the new system.”
 
Martinez acknowledges that she had a lot of help along the way and that YES Prep provided an environment for her children to flourish.
 
“I had a lot of help exposing them to the [educational] environment, plus what I wanted for my kids.  I wasn’t the only one nagging about school.  I had other people helping me.”
 
Today, Martinez is proud to say that her children – all three – are on the path towards college graduation.  Nayeri, who graduated from Southeast in 2010, is currently at the University of Tulsa earning her degree in International Business and Spanish.  Christopher, a 2011 alum of Southeast, is presently attending Texas Women’s University, working towards a degree in kinesiology.  His aim is to become an athletic trainer for a sports team.  Martinez’s youngest, Kevin, will graduate from Southeast this spring and has already received recruiting letters from Yale University and Harvard University.
 
With two students in college, Martinez’s journey has evolved from helping her children through middle school and high school, to providing support through college.
 
“My daughter has had rough days.  My family is like, ‘Why don’t you let her come home?’ To them it’s hard to understand why [I am] forcing them to stay…because there’s struggles in life.  You’ve got to deal with them.  Bringing them home isn’t going to help them in any way.”
 
In addition to the pursuit of higher education for her children, Martinez has also prioritized her own education, with encouragement from Barbic.  She recounts how her second year at YES Prep, Barbic sat her down and said, “Look, we’re going to grow, and I would hate for someone to come and manage you when you know what you’re doing.  So I suggest you go back to school.”  That is precisely what Martinez did.  While working full-time and supporting her own children through school, Martinez earned her Bachelor’s degree.  Now, she is currently working on her MBA in Health Care Administration at Our Lady of the Lake University.  She is hoping to graduate in May of this year.
 
For Martinez, YES Prep has been a whole-family experience.  She has been at YES since the beginning and watched the organization grow from one campus with a small number of kids to 13 campuses throughout Houston and a long waiting-list, and now an expansion to Memphis.  She hopes that YES Prep continues to grow in order to serve as many students as possible.
 
“I really hope that more kids can be exposed to our focus and our values,” she said.  “It shouldn’t be because you were born or raised in a low-income [area], now we know what your future is going to be like.  It shouldn’t be that way.  If we can expand this concept, like we’re doing, it is a huge benefit.  I see it in my kids.”

To learn more about joining the YES Prep team, click here.

To enter your child in the YES Prep Lottery, click here.

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